Wednesday, February 8, 2012

That's Alotta Monkeys!

I wasn’t expecting The Woman In Black to qualify for The Shortening, but here I go out to the theaters on Friday night like any old civilian and what do I get?

Creepy kids

Antique dolls

5’6 leading men

Monkeys shaking maracas

Insert press tag on hat and venture forth!

Quick Plot: A silent prologue follows three precious Victorian girls having a tea party with an assortment of horrifically wrong-looking dolls. Oh, and that’s not even the freaky part. Without a word, the triplets arise to leap out the window.


Flashing forward to the movie’s later Victorian present, the widowed lawyer Arthur Kips (Radcliffe) is heading on a business trip from his young son. WIth his career in jeopardy, Arhur heads to a far-off marshy town where all the locals spout ominous warnings about the abandoned home Kips will have to enter.

It’s not easy. Arthur’s late clients lived in a mansion across the village with the route dependent upon the marshy tide. Years earlier, their young son drowned in a tragic carriage accident. Ever since, the town has seen a rash of mysterious child deaths--suicides, perhaps--and the legend of the titular Lady In White--

Damnit. You know what I meant.

Kips does his best to sift through mounds of paperwork amid the eerie house noises, but once the nursery’s menagerie of music boxes, clowns with cymbals, and monkeys--so many, many monkeys--gets partying, it’s hard to ignore the whole “this house is haunted by dead children and the really pissed off woman that killed them” thing.

On hand to help is Julius Caesar himself, Ciaran Hinds as Daily, a wealthy local mourning the death of his own long-lost son. Skeptical of superstitions, Daily cares for his crazy-with-grief wife who sometimes channels the lost spirit of their child.

Between medium sessions, fog-covered cemeteries, and Changeling-ish wheelchairs, The Woman In Black is an enthusiastically hard-working film. Director James Watkins embraces the Hammer mystique full-force, never winking at the audience or downplaying the fairly horrific dead child weight that hangs on so many key scenes. It’s an important choice because unlike so many other ghost stories that seem so pent on righting the original wrong, The Woman In Black isn’t necessarily satisfied by sympathy.

One local girl drinks poison while another burns to death in a fire. Like an Elm Street without telephones for tongues to stick out of, this is not the place to be if you’re under 18.

And that’s easily one of the most effective tricks of the very effective Woman In Black. Arthur is sympathetic enough as a sad widower trying to hold it together for his son, but it’s more the idea that this unlucky town’s youth is constantly at risk whenever a stranger dares to stir its eternal ghost that really makes the film something sorta dangerous.

High Points
Amid dead little girls and suicidal mad women, it’s nice to find some surprisingly witty moments of humor lurking inside The Woman In Black. The jokes never detract from the scares but help to keep us amused by the characters for whose souls we’re already fearing


I absolutely adored the ending of The Woman In Black. On one hand, it didn’t wimp out with a happy Hollywood sing-off. At the same time, it wasn’t mean in scope. Yes, Arthur and his cherubic lil artist of a son do die—in what we imagine is a pretty gruesome manner—but they do so together, sparing either any further loss. It’s kind of bittersweet


Low Points
Ahhh, the plight of modern genre cinema sound design and its increasing predicatbility. There are a good dozen or so jump scares staged with perfect visual punch, but just about every one is heralded with ham-fisted music that kills its effectiveness

Old Habits
Although a few grays too young for the role, Daniel Radcliffe acquits himself quite well to his first major non-Harry Potter performance. It’s my fault entirely that I found myself constantly wondering how he could sort through all those documents without the aid of his wizard glasses

Lessons Learned
If dispatched to a haunted house on a job that will either make or destroy your career, quit dilly dallying with ghost hunting and get to the paperwork already

Postal workers are and have always been lazy jerks

When in doubt, cut to a monkey doll

If you're name is Daniel Radcliffe, don't ever take a train. Seriously kid, it's just irresponsible at this point

See/Skip/Sneak In
I liked The Woman In Black far more than I expected I would. That being said, this isn’t a revolutionary genre film—if anything, it’s decidedly Hammer and old-fashioned—and will probably be just as enjoyable at home with the lights off, where you don’t have to worry about cell phone jingles or popcorn crunching. I’d love to see the film do well in theaters if only to support this kind of moviemaking, but it opened to better-than-expected numbers so if you want to save your Alexander Hamilton for half the DVD in a few months, I won’t come back and tell your children to off themselves. That’s just tacky.


  1. Have you seen the original Woman in Black? I haven't and I'm curious about one thing-if the ending is as hilarious as it sounds!

  2. Okay, so I skipped the spoilers because your review is enough to convince me to go see it myself.

  3. I have not Chris. I wasn't familiar at all with the story, but my boyfriend said the London stage version was terrifying. I've heard not good things about the film though!

    Ashlee, I'll be really curious to hear your thoughts. It has its flaws, but I dug it far more than I expected I would!

  4. In preparation for seeing this new one I watched the older TV movie the other day (it's on Youtube) and liked it a lot.
    This new version sounds quite different... though not in a bad way. Just that it has MORE of everything... more 'creepy' sprayed onto the sets, more ghosts to look at, more child deaths on display.
    The TV ending is sad and held no hilarity for me... but there's always someone who will laugh, no matter what it is.

  5. Hmmm, now I'm intrigued to give the TV version a go. And I don't want to give anything else away since from what I understand, the remake does add more backstory to the characters which I imagine weighs heavily on the ending.

  6. Just an FYI, the original movie version is excellent. Give it a go.
    I too, quite enjoyed this new version as well, and may I suggest the source novel? Chilling!

  7. I've heard such mixed things, but I definitely trust your opinion Chris! I'll be on the lookout for the film and novel, thanks for the advice!

  8. Thirding/fourthing the recommendation for the original.

    I'm glad that you dug the ending! At least two friends groused about it for being too "religious"/suggestive of an afterlife, which is a hilarious complaint to have about a GHOST MOVIE. I thought it was perfect for the tone of the film. REALLY cool to see another subtle, slow-burner horror film in a theater, even if it did overrely on loud noises in places.

  9. Ha! I guess secular afterlives involve hauntings, while religious ones include heaven? I never thought of it that way!